Receiving a paycheck dependent on performance in promoting partisan claims about science–e.g. paid roles as author, speaker, and paid director of lobbying group promoting such claims–is a serious conflict of interest when writing articles that purport to be scientific. Nina Teicholz, whose financial situation is described above, recently co-wrote a Medscape article, which self-portrays as being science-based. Problematically in this article, she presents the very same views for which she receives a.) royalties as author of the The Big Fat Surprise, b.) honoraria as speaker on the claims contained therein, and c.) a salary as Executive Director of the Nutrition Coalition, which promotes these same claims and lobbies the United States government about nutrition policy.
Indeed while Nina appears to have no financial disclosure page on her website–and so we do not know the extent of her conflict from royalties and honoraria–the publicly available Nutrition Coalition’s 2015 501c tax filing shows a compensation of $24,046 for 10 hours of work per week as secretary:
Since being promoted to Executive Director of the organization, it is not clear what Nina’s current compensation is.
Yet, she does not disclose these financial conflict of interests in her article. Why is this important? To be clear, Nina Teicholz is disincentivized from evaluating new information on her hypotheses objectively because changing her opinion in light of new information would come into conflict with prior paid commitments. Thus, her financial conflicts of interest qualify her claims to objectivity or science-based writing, in a way not dissimilar to pharma consulting, investments in healthcare technology companies, etc.
Such financial conflicts of interest should be disclosed to give context to readers. These conflicts are highly relevant to the article’s claims.Medscape is widely read and highly regarded. Therefore, this oversight should be corrected so that readers are aware of the serious problems with her claims to be free of bias. Troublingly, Nina did disclose some of these conflicts in another article published for Medscape just one year ago:
Nina’s present disclosure oversight is probably intentional. As obesity doctor, University of Ottowa professor, and anti-obesity campaigner Yoni Freedhoff has pointed out, Nina has a history of not disclosing conflicts of interest:
Here is a closer view of the email in question:
The problem goes deeper:
Despite dozens of similar exchanges with other critics–as well as being forced to disclose conflicts of interest after failing to disclose them in the above BMJ article–Nina continues to claim ignorance about what constitutes a conflict of interest.
Yet in dozens of places, she shows a persistent (and selective) focus on the conflicts of interest of university-affiliated researchers:
An advanced search on her Twitter account demonstrates a clear if systematically selectively applied understanding of how conflicts of interest work. Here is a sample of about half of pertinent tweets.
Notably, the above represents only about 10% of her total tweets on conflicts of interest in academic health science. In other words, conflicts of interest is a theme in her work.
One of Nina’s associates, Jason Fung, recently denounced the failure to disclose conflicts of interest by a prominent cancer researcher:
Ironically, Nina would retweet a similar tweet denouncing the financial ties between academic medicine and industry, and the failure to disclose these.
But most telling is a recent tweet that Nina sent to me:
This seems to be a tacit admission that Nina knows that she is not disclosing conflicts of interest. Instead of fully owning up to her shortcoming, she deflects by pointing out that, apparently, David Katz also does not disclose his.
More tellingly, however, is the implication that disclosing financial conflicts of interest is something to be avoided–and that giving the misleading impression of financial independence is acceptable so long as other people do the same thing (allegedly).
In this statement, Nina reveals that her objective is not to give readers the most accurate representation of reality–but to use whatever means available to persuade them of a particular point of view, even if this involves misrepresenting herself. Thus, this tweet amounts to a tacit admission to a willingness to use facts tactically.
If this is her orientation toward the truth, I think it is fair to ask the question: What else is Nina Teicholz hiding?
The following replies distill the point succinctly:
Lastly, if there any question about the cause of Nina’s professed confusion about what constitutes a conflict of interest, this suggests an answer–and verifies what was written above:
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